President Bush’s penchant for rejecting international accords may be coming home to roost.
During last week’s summit of leading nations, Mr. Bush agreed to study a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin to construct jointly a defense shield against missile strikes. Mr. Bush also pledged to “seriously consider” a German plan to cut global emissions of greenhouse gases in half by 2050.
While Mr. Bush opened the door to a new level of international cooperation in both cases, his potential allies are wary because of the administration’s history with international agreements on the same subjects. Their skepticism also threatens to isolate the U.S. as it pursues other priorities on Washington’s agenda, such as curbing Iran’s nuclear program and pressuring the Hamas-run Palestinian government to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
Over the past six years, foreign leaders largely held their tongues when Washington discarded such treaties. But with anti-American sentiments rising globally, Mr. Putin and others are no longer keeping their frustrations to themselves.
“There’s a cumulative sense abroad that the U.S….turned its back on one multilateral pact after another,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That means foreign governments simply aren’t inclined to work with the U.S. the way they used to in the past. They say, ‘Why should we help?’ “
Countries such as Germany and Britain will be looking for evidence in coming months that the Bush administration is serious about seeking multilateral deals on thorny issues. One test will be Iran, where Washington has been working with the U.N. and close European allies on a diplomatic solution to the country’s nuclear program. Mr. Bush has encountered pressure from many Republican lawmakers to take a harder line against Tehran, possibly including military action, and foreign governments are unsure of how firmly committed Mr. Bush is to the diplomatic track.
American allies, especially in Europe, also will be watching for how seriously the Bush administration pursues its proposal to convene meetings of the world’s 15 top greenhouse-gas producers as part of an effort to develop nonbinding goals for reducing global warming.
Many of the agreements the administration discarded over the past six years were largely unknown among Americans. As a result, said 17-year State Department veteran Price Floyd, “none of those treaties made much of a ripple in the U.S., and there was no blowback in America. But overseas, people noticed.”
Mr. Floyd said he resigned earlier this year after tiring of trying to persuade other public-affairs officials that the source of American unpopularity is its actions, not its words. He said senior State Department officials did more than 3,200 interviews with foreign journalists over the past six years as part of a campaign to sell American foreign policy to overseas audiences. Many of the questions concerned U.S. opposition to treaties such as Kyoto or the agreement creating an International Criminal Court for war-crimes trials, he said.
But the more American officials took to the airwaves to defend administration stances, the more unpopular the U.S. became around the world, he said.
“We don’t have a marketing problem — it’s the product,” said Mr. Floyd, who now works for the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. “Our actions and our words don’t match up.” Mr. Bush and his aides acknowledge that the U.S. is less popular than it once was. They attribute this concern overseas to moves such as the invasion of Iraq, which the administration sees as vital to American security.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters recently that the initial U.S. push to withdraw from the ABM treaty — which was widely covered in Russian media — “was an area of disagreement” with Russia. “But we were able to talk that through and get [Russia] behind it.”
But many Russia experts say Mr. Putin’s anger over the U.S. abandonment of the ABM treaty — along with other moves, such as its effort to place missile interceptors in Poland and elsewhere — continues to grow. “There is an accumulation of perceived slights that make Russians think their security interests are being disregarded,” said Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, a think tank in Washington.
During a recent visit to Russia, Mr. Simes said he was stunned by the intensity of anti-American sentiment he heard from senior officials, who saw U.S. military dominance as a growing threat.
Mr. Simes said anti-American feelings have been building for years. “It took awhile, but you’re finally seeing the response,” he said.